The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety (ACTS, which represents 17 automobile manufacturers) have announced developments with their collaborative research partnership to produce technology designed to curb drunk driving. It’s called the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS), and it uses two novel methods to prevent intoxicated motor vehicle operation.

The first method is based on the driver’s breath. Using a sensor located either in the driver’s door or in the steering column, exhaled air is analyzed using a beam of infrared light that can quickly measure the proportion of ethanol molecules to carbon dioxide molecules. The position of the sensors and carefully engineered cabin airflow allow the system to measure only the driver’s breath, a necessary feature when acting as the designated driver for the night.

Second, there’s a touch-based technology located in the car’s push-start ignition button or shift lever. This system shines a beam of light into the driver’s finger, using near-infrared tissue spectroscopy to detect alcohol levels in the blood.

With either system, the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level is determined in less than a second. If the percentage detected is above the legal limit of 0.08, the car won’t move. For drivers under the age of 21, the system can be programmed for a zero-tolerance policy.

The research program was created in 2008 with the expressed purpose of creating “a voluntary, non-regulatory countermeasure to reduce drunk driving.” Initial research and analysis was completed in 2011, with prototyping, human interaction testing, and further research currently underway. A team of independent engineers and scientists oversees the project. DADSS is expected to be ready for commercialization in the next five years, at which time the system will be available for purchase as a safety option, similar to automatic braking or blind-spot detection.

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Why it matters

NHTSA Announces Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety Drawings
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As new technologies make the roads safer with every passing year, the NHTSA reports that alcohol-impaired driving crashes still kill roughly 10,000 people and costs nearly $200 billion annually.

To help reduce that statistic, the DADSS research program brings together prominent government and private-sector partners in a nation-wide effort to “invent a world without drunk driving.”

The system is mainly targeted at teen and commercial fleet drivers, and is expected to make its first appearance in government fleets.

Automakers involved with the program include: BMW Group, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar Land Rover, Kia Motors, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi Motors, Nissan, Porsche, Subaru, Toyota, Volkswagen Group of America, and Volvo. Safety and children’s advocates, bipartisan leaders in Congress and government entities, members of the medical community, the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, the National Beer Wholesalers of America, and the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America also ascribe to the coalition.

The system is mainly targeted at teen and commercial fleet drivers, and is expected to make its first appearance in government fleets.

So far, R&D seems to be taking quite some time to complete. However, those behind the program are looking for a smooth transition from the drawing board to the real world, as stated in a press release: “While the technology is estimated to have the potential to save thousands of lives per year, the research is still in the early phases of development. In order to be considered for widespread deployment, the DADSS technology must be seamless, accurate, and precise, and unobtrusive to the sober driver. It must also be proven reliable to be installed in the vehicle fleet and publicly favorable.”

The sentiments echo the proliferation of a variety of other automated car systems, with things like emergency braking, lane departure warning, and adaptive headlights all making their way to becoming standard features of the modern automobile.

What’s more, the rollout is similar to that ultimate in drunk driving prevention, the fully autonomous car. Once such technologies become widespread, the above-mentioned statistic will become a thing of the past. It’s just a matter of getting there from here.

“This is a perfect example of why we at DOT are bullish on technology,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “Education, awareness and enforcement have succeeded in dramatically reducing drunk driving fatalities, but the advanced technology of DADSS brings enormous potential to save even more lives.”

Of course, there is no such thing as a perfect technology, hence the long development time. I see numerous potential problems, including poor air circulation when carting around a car full of excited, yammering drunks while performing your duties as the designated driver, or a false trigger after rinsing with mouthwash, or even a bit of booze lingering on the fingers of a server after working a shift on Friday night. Hopefully, those that oversee development have the foresight to account for such complications.

Source: Dadss

Jonathan Lopez
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